Arundhati Roy Interview
On the Indian Elections, Her Support for the Iraqi Resistance & the Privatization of War
by: Amy Goodman on: 21st May, 04
As India's Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi stuns thecountrybydeciding to turn down the post of prime minister we go toIndiatospeak with acclaimed
Indian author and activist about electionsintheworld's largest democracy and occupation in the MiddleEast.[includesrush transcript]
India's Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi stunned her supportersyesterday by deciding to turn down the post of prime minister.
SpeakingbeforeCongress party members in India's parliament yesterdayshe said,"Thepost of prime minister has not been my aim. I was alwayscertainthat
ifever I found myself in the position I am in today, Iwouldfollow myinner voice. I humbly decline the post."
Herannouncementsparked uproar among Congress MPs who shouted andpleadedwith her toreconsider. One man stood on the roof of a caroutsideGandhi's
home,held a home-made gun to his head and said hewould killhimself if Ghandididn't accept the post. Gandhi had widelybeenexpected to become
primeminister after her Congress party anditsallies recorded a surprisevictory over the Hindu-nationalistBharatiyaJanata party (BJP) innational
elections that ended last week.
Following the win,Gandhi became the target of a campaign led bytheBJP to criticize herforeign origins and it has been reported thatherson and daughter
wereagainst their mother taking up the positionforsafety reasons. Gandhiwas born in Italy and became an Indiancitizen21 years ago when shemarried
former Prime Minister RajivGandhi. Hewas assassinated by asuicide bomber in 1991.
Gandhihas not publicly proposed analternative candidate but reportsindicateformer Finance MinisterManmohan Singh is tipped to be nextleader ofthe
world's largestdemocracy. After initial reports emergedthat Gandhiwas reconsideringthe post, the Indian stock market bouncedback fromthe worst losses
* Arundhati Roy,acclaimed Indian authorand activist. Her most recent book is TheCheckbook and the CruiseMissile a collection of interviews by
DavidBarsamian. This summer SouthEnd Press wil publish a new collection ofessays titled The OrdinaryPerson's Guide to Empire.
Thistranscriptis available free of charge, however donationshelp usprovide closedcaptioning for the deaf and hard of hearing onour TVbroadcast.
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AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!, Arundhati.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN:It'svery good to have you with us. Can you explain what ishappeningrightnow in India? Were you surprised by the victory of
theCongressparty,and then the rejection by Sonia Gandhi of theprimeministership?
ARUNDHATI ROY:I think manypeople were surprised bythe victory of the Congress,because it wasreally hard to see beyondthe sort of haze of hatred
thatthe Hindunationalists had beenspreading. One wasn't sure whether thepeople wouldbe blinded by that-- and they had been just a few monthsago in a
localassemblyelections in Gujarat -- or whether the realissues of absolutepovertyand absolute [separation] from the land andwater resources wouldbethe
big issues. A lot of us, when the resultscame out were --leavingaside one's cynicism about mainstream politics-- thought itcouldn'thave been a
better result. The Congress partysort of shackledto theleft parties in a coalition which would makethem a prettyformidableopposition to the BJP. But
subsequently, whathas happened hasbeenactually fascinating because you can just see theforces at play,bothinternationally and nationally, so
blatantly, justso blatantlythat,you know, just in order to understand what's goingon, it's beenafascinating few days.
AMY GOODMAN: Canyou talk aboutthe differencesbetween the BJP, which has been defeated,and theCongress party? Iunderstand that you have just returned
fromthe houseof the man who webelieve will replace Sonia Gandhi since shehas turneddown the primeministership.
ARUNDHATI ROY:No, no,no not returned, but I was inthe market and to come back home Ihad todrive past all of thepoliticians' houses, and I could see
allthe crowdsoutside and thetelevision cameras and so on. I have noaccess to them inthat sense,but, well the fundamental differencebetween the
Congress andthe BJPis that one is an overtly fascistparty, proudly fascist. Itdoesn'tfeel bad if you call it that. Theculture to which the
BJP'sbigleaders subscribe to, which is the RSS,openly admires Hitler.
The Congress -- I mean, obviously, theway it has happened isthat theCongress has historically played covertcommunal politics inorder tocreate what in
India we call vote bankswhere you pit onecommunityagainst another and so on in order to securevotes. So,somehow the BJPis the horrible specter that
has emerged fromthelegacy of the Congressparty. You know, you begin to realizethathypocrisy is not a terriblething when you see what overt
fascismiscompared to sort of covert, youknow, communal politics whichtheCongress has never been shy ofindulging in.
Economically,again, it's the same thing. Youknow, the Congress reallywas the partythat opened India up to the wholeneo-liberal regime. Butthe BJP
hascome in and taken it much further, toabsurd levels. Today,we have asituation in which 40% of rural India hasfood absorptionlevels lowerthan
sub-Saharan Africa. You have thebiggest rural incomedivide everseen in history. You have millions oftons of food grainrotting ingovernment pogroms
while starvation deathsare announced allover. Youhave the W.T.O. regime making it possible forthe governmentto importfood grain and milk and sugar and
all of thesethings whileIndianfarmers are committing suicide not in the hundredsnow, but thefigureshave moved into the thousands. And you have a
middleclasswhich isglittering, which is happy... I just wrote a piece abouthowcorporateglobalization and this kind of Hindu
nationalism,communalfascism areso linked. If you see what has happened aftertheelections, after thepeople of India made it clear that theirmandatewas
againstcommunalism, their mandate was against economicreforms.Even in stategovernments where the Congress party hadinstituted thesereforms,
theCongress was also overthrown. It wasn't avote for SoniaGandhi or avote for the congress, it was a vote againstvery seriousissues.
What has happened is that as soon as theelection resultswereannounced, the BJP., the hard-right wing members ofthe B.J.P. anditsgoon squads started
saying we'll shave our heads.We'll eat greengramand make a revolution in this country against thisforeign woman ontheone hand, and on the other
hand, equally hard corecorporategroupswere acting -- they were out on the streets. They wereyellinglikefundamentalists would, and all of these
corporatetelevisionchannelshad split screens where on the one hand, you saw whatishappening inSonia Gandhi's house and on the other half, you
justhadwhat thestockbrokers are saying. And the whole of the onebillionpeople whohad voted had just been forgotten. They had been
giventheirphotoopportunity, their journeys on elephant back and camelandwhatever itwas to the election booth. Now they were just
forgotten.Theonlycomments you get are what the industrialists think... andwhatthecentrists think about Sonia Gandhi. It is an absolutely
absurdkindofblackmail by fascists on the one hand and corporate fascistsontheother.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to ArundhatiRoy,speakingto us from Delhi. She recently wrote a piece in TheGuardianofBritain, "Let Us Hope that the
Darkness has Passed and theVeil oftheVirtual Worlds has Collided in a Humiliation of Power." Onthe issueofSonia Gandhi and why she is stepping down,
what this means,doyouthink it is significant at all?
ARUNDHATI ROY:Ithink there was a real dilemmathere. All of us are so used tobeingcynical and reading meaning intomeanings. But she was faced
withaparty and with a climate and peopleat the helm of the BJP, who weknownow are capable of going to anyextreme -- as we saw what happenedinGujarat
two years ago when theyopenly supported a pogrom in which2,000Muslims were massacred on thestreets, and not a single person hasbeenbrought to book or
punished.I think she was aware of the fact thatthiskind of vilification andthis kind of chauvinism is in the air. Itcouldhave resulted in asituation
where a new government comes in andallit's doing isfirefighting on a non-issue, on whether Sonia Gandhi isaforeigner orwhether she should be there or
not there. Whereas, infact,there areso many really pressing issues that need to be looked at.So,I thinkthat there was a real dilemma there, and
perhapsstrategicallyit hastaken the wind out of the BJP's sails and hasexposed them forbeingabsolutely uncaring for a massive mandate. If youlook at
all ofthesecular and left parties together, it's 320 seats,which is ahugemajority.
AMY GOODMAN: As we return toArundhati Royin India,as she reports on what's happening there with theelectionsthat haverouted out the B.J.P. party.
Arundhati, as you listento thisreport ofthe Israeli helicopter gun ships firing into the crowdofthousands [inRafah in Gaza], a number of people are
dead, andit'scertainly anissue you have followed as well as what you'rehearingabout what'shappening in Iraq, could you share your response?
ARUNDHATI ROY:It'sjust that you have to sometimesyou have come to a stage where youalmosthave to work on yourself. Youknow, on finding some
tranquilitywithwhich to respond to thesethings, because I realize that thebiggest riskthat many of us run isbeginning to get inured to thehorrors.
Next timearound, only if it isratcheted up, will it get ourattention? I havealways maintained thatit's very, very important tounderstand that waris
the result of aflawed peace, and we mustunderstand the systems thatare at work here.You know, we mustunderstand that the resistancemovement in Iraq is
aresistance movementthat all of us have to support,because it's ourwar, too. And it willnot do for them to call peopleterrorists andthugs and all of
that.That time is over now. The fact isthatAmerica's weapons systems havemade it impossible for anybodytoconfront it militarily. So, all youhave is
your wits and yourcunning,and your ability to fight in the waythe Iraqis are fighting.You seethat system. You see Iraq as theculmination of a system,
and youseehow hard that system is pushingeven here. You can see the clearlinksbetween what's happening in theIndian elections and this
wholeglobaleconomy and how it's suffocatingthe breath out of the body ofpoorpeople.
AMY GOODMAN: We'retalking with Arundhati RoyinIndia. We have also gotten these reportsof some Indian workerswhowere working for a western contractor
inIraq, who alleged thattheywere kept there against their will, hardlybeing paid. It was areportthat was first reported in the Hindu andthen followed
up inthiscountry, a group of 20 Indians who ran awayfrom a U.S. Militarycampin Iraq where they worked in the kitchenclaiming they had beenabusedfor
nine months. Is this a story that youhave been following?Theyhave returned, I believe, now, to India.
ARUNDHATI ROY:Theyare all people from Kerala whichis where I come from, you know,andapparently, these kind of jobcontractors took them to
Kuwait,pretendingthat they had got them workthere. A lot of people fromKerala work inthe Middle East. And thenthey were put on a busbasically and
theyrealized they were in Baghdadbefore they knew it.So, I think, you know,this is the bottom end ofthe privatization ofwar. Torture has
beenprivatized now, so you haveobviously the wholescandal in America aboutthe abuse of prisoners andthe fact that, armypeople might be made topay a
price, but who arethe privatizedtorturers accountable too?Eventually, you have asituation also inwhich -- as it becomes more andmore obvious to
theAmerican governmentthat when American soldiers dieon the battlefield,pressure goes up athome. so they're going to try tohire othersoldiers to do
their workfor them. You know, they're going totry tohire poor people from poorcountries who would be willing to doit. I'msure they're going to
trythat. They're trying that already,trying toget, of course, the Indianarmy and so on in -- we know HamidKarzai'ssecurities are allprivatized. I
think it's a nightmare andultimately,terrorism, in way,is a privatization of war. It's the beliefthat it'snot only statesthat can wage war, why not
private people? Whynot haveyour nuclearbombs in your briefcase? All of these policiesthatAmerica upholds,nuclear weapons, privatization, all of
thesethingsare going to mutateand metamorphosis into these dangerous things.
AMY GOODMAN:I want to thank you for joining usfrom NewDelhi, India. Arundhati Roy,the author and activist. Her bookis comingout this summer
"TheOrdinary Person's Guy to Empire." Thisis DemocracyNow!.